Obesity rates in Britain are soaring despite Government warnings that we are turning into a nation of couch potatoes and unfortunately our pets are heading the same way, with approximately 1 in 3 of our pets being overweight and unfit. We know that exercise is good for us: it helps us maintain a healthy weight, gives us energy , keeps our muscles and joints flexible, helps us to live longer and makes us feel better. The same applies to our pets, but they have to rely on us to lead the way and provide safe, enjoyable exercise opportunities that will help keep them fit and happy. It is time to start making sure our pets eat properly, receive less of those unhealthy treats and get fitter.
Dogs can be great fun to exercise and their enthusiasm will encourage you to be more active too. Exercise can be anything from slow and leisurely walks in the park or around the block, to racing after a ball or playing with other dogs.
- If your dog isn’t used to lots of exercise, or the more intensive forms of exercise, make sure that you build up slowly to avoid any health problems or injuries. Start with a couple of 10-15 minute walks and build up to an hour or more over a few weeks.
- Always make sure that your dog’s muscles are properly warmed up before allowing him or her to race about off the lead or before doing any other kind of activity. A 10-15 minute on-lead, brisk walk should be enough to warm up.
- Keep a close eye on your dog to watch for any signs of tiredness, trouble breathing or lameness. If you see any of these your dog should see the vet.
- The more active your dog is the more water he or she will need. Take some with you if you will be outside for a while, especially on hot days.
- Make sure puppies have plenty of rest periods by putting them back on the lead for 5-10 minutes if they are running around. This is especially important for the larger breeds of dogs as it will help protect growing bones and muscles.
- If you are taking up jogging and want to take your dog with you, it is worth investing in a runners lead which fastens around your waist, allowing you to keep your hands free. Remember that your dog will need to learn to run properly next to you and this can take time and practice.
Other than walking, there are plenty of other activities you can get involved in to improve your dogs fitness including
- Swimming: This will improve muscle tone, help with weight loss and increase general fitness. As with people it is a great way of keeping fit, especially if you already have joint or muscle problems. Swimming is safest at a hydrotherapy pool where your dog can be properly supervised and programs can be tailored to each individual. If you decide to let your dog swim in lakes or the sea make sure that the area is safe and that you are prepared to get your dog out if it gets into trouble.
- Agility: For dogs over 12 months old this is a great way to keep them fit and prevent boredom. It is also great for keeping owners fit.
- Obedience Training: This is not only a great way of communicating and bonding with your dog it also provides gentle exercise and great mental stimulation.
- Rally: This is a combination of obedience and agility training and is suitable for any breed.
- Flyball: Dogs need to be extremely fit for this exciting sport
- Heel-work to music: This combination of obedience and dance can be gentle or fast paced to suit you and your dog and is a lot of fun.
- Working trials: These are usually for working and gun dog breeds but any type of dog can do it. The trials are based around searching, tracking and retrieving and demonstrate obedience and control.
Our cats can sometimes take laziness to dizzying heights; such as snoozing in the afternoon sun (usually indoors, on the windowsill, above the radiator), taking cat naps after each strenuous activity (walking into the kitchen to eat or use the litter tray) and helping you watch the telly while curled up asleep on your lap. There are plenty of things you can do to encourage your cat to exercise, but bear in mind that cats are designed for short, frequent periods of activity and usually play is limited to 5-10 minute bursts. Cats like to explore, stalk, chase, bat and catch prey.
Exploration: Empty cardboard boxes – some with cat-sized holes and some without – and paper bags make wonderfully cheap toys for cats, especially if there is the possibility of finding a few small treats in them. Climbing towers can also be made at home or purchased from pet shops.
Chasing/stalking toys: Dangling things attached to string will encourage even the laziest cat into activity, you can use shop bought toys or make your own (a piece of string or ribbon will work).
Batting toys: Anything light that moves easily across a floor will encourage your cat to hit and chase. Rolled up paper and ping-pong type balls work well.
Scratch stations/posts: Cats love scratching posts and surfaces as it enables them to stretch and tone their muscles properly, maintain their claws and mark their territory.
Walkies: Some cats will tolerate a harness and lead and happily go for walks with their owners. This could be the ideal solution if you keep your cat indoors because you are worried he or she may go missing if allowed out alone.
Training: It is possible to train some cats to perform activities, some examples are; playing fetch with paper or toys, sitting on command and giving high fives to their owners. If they are food motivated this is much easier to do and will encourage activity.
Pets in cages also need to have the opportunity to exercise and get some fresh air and it is important not to overlook them.
Rabbits, Guinea Pigs and Ferrets: These pets should have access to an outside safe area or enclosed run. They can be encouraged to exercise and forage for tasty food quite easily. Plastic tubes and cardboard boxes can be used to encourage exploration and play and there are also lots of activity toys available in pet stores. Many of these pets also enjoy walking on a harness, but be wary of predators if you take them outside your home environment.
Rodents: Can be provided with exercise wheels in the cage or exercise balls hat can be placed onto the floor at home. You can also invest in special plastic tunneling systems that attach to the cage and run around the outside of it to offer them more room. Providing ladders and rope bridges also encourages activity.
Birds: Should be given flying time out of their cage when it is safe to do so – just make sure you close all of the windows and doors first! If they have had their wings clipped and cannot fly they can at least be encourage to walk about outside the cage.
Agility clubs This website has information about agility and lists of local clubs http://www.agilityclub.org/
Pets In Practise Our local club offers dog training, kennel club good citizen scheme, and Rally classes http://www.petsinpractise.co.uk/dog-training.html
The Kennel Club Offfer lots of information on dog related activities http://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/activities
Cat Clicker Training A good article on training your cat http://www.for-cats-only.com/cat-clicker-training-start.htm
Cat Entertainment How to make a box tower for your cat http://www.funinthemaking.net/2010/06/29/make-a-playhouse-box-tower-for-your-cat/
The Hay Experts Some ideas on activities for small pets http:// http://www.thehayexperts.co.uk
Ferret Couture Lots of useful ferret information http://www.ferretcouture.co.uk
Some of the above pictures are courtesy of our clients and their wonderful pets